Fellini's Roma (1972)

Viewed February 13th

Fellini's kaleidoscopic love letter to the eternal city.

To an American, especially one living on the west coast, it's difficult to imagine the age of Rome--its strata of history colliding with one another in its streets and the physiognomies of its people. And it's this sense of historical strata piling up, not in a logical progression, but in a sort of sensual phantasmagoria that this film suggests. It's not Rome, but "Rome-world," the sense of Rome, presented as a film by a filmmaker known for creating indelible cinematic worlds. This all becomes particularly actualized (and critically considered) in Roma when the documentary film crew we've periodically been following through contemporary Rome accompanies a subway tunnel dig. As the crew descends deeper underground, they uncover a two-thousand year-old Roman dwelling replete with murals of Roman faces we swear we've seen before. These murals are tragically, yet beautifully obscured when the outside oxygen, which the ancient dwelling had been protected against for centuries, strikes the surfaces of the murals, leaving only imprints.  

However this film is also, of course, not just Roma, but Fellini's Roma, and, as such, every scene is shot through the director's iconic sensibility. The film works best when it merges Fellini and Roma into a seamless whole, when Fellini's youthful encounters with the city are gateways to the city, not gateways to whatever happened to be on Fellini's mind on the day he conceived of a given scene. One of the most instantaneously memorable sequences, for instance, illustrates the role of Catholicism in Rome via a catwalk fashion show of outré outfits inspired by the garments of Catholic clergy. It's wild and provocative and pure Fellini, but it shifts the film away from its evocation of Rome and, as a viewer, away from the feeling that the film is an intentional, thoughtfully considered whole. But somehow that's fine, too, because this quality of unevenness, or chaos, or not all adding up, is itself Roman, as the film repeatedly tries to express. And even if you don't buy this that's fine too; it's still simply a distinct pleasure to watch every frame of Fellini at his most Fellini. The debates around him as an artist are over, he too is part of history, and when watching Fellini, it's simply more pleasurable to give in and do as Fellini does.